The capital of the state of Alaska, Juneau, has a larger area than Delaware and Rhode Island combined and has plenty of free things to do during a cheap family vacation. Downtown Juneau is nestled at the base of Mt. Juneau and across the channel from Douglas Island. Winter temperatures are well below freezing on average with up to 90 inches of snow per year, while summer highs level off in the mid 60s.
Below are 10 free things to do to help make a family vacation in Juneau more affordable. Most of the free activities offered in Juneau center around the city’s unique landscape – a landscape which includes mountains, glaciers, trails, and beaches.
1. Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area – A tongue of ice stretching 12 miles from the Juneau Icefield to Mendenhall Lake. At its widest point, the glacier is more than a half mile wide, with ice 300 to 1,800 feet deep. The US Forest Service Recreation Area is also a place for black bear viewing between June and October.
2. Alaska State Capitol Building – The state capitol building is full of information about Alaska and its government. Self-guided tours conducted year-round. Guided tours available May-September.
3. Shrine of St. Therese and the Jensen-Olson Arboretum – Located 25 miles north of downtown Juneau, the Shrine of St. Therese and the Jensen-Olsen Arboretum are picturesque and peaceful places to relax and reflect. Both present outstanding views of the water and mountains.
4. Local Hiking/Walking Trails – Juneau has more than 250 miles of maintained hiking/walking trails to meet every fitness level. From beach walks to mountain climbs, these free trails offer access to the rainforest and to alpine meadows.
5. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church – For more than 111 years, St Nicholas Church has been serving the Orthodox Christian faithful in Juneau and the surrounding areas. Its classic onion dome and octagonal shape house a substantial collection of icons and artifacts.
6. Local Beaches – The beaches in Juneau offer a wide variety of experiences, from Sandy Beach in Douglas to the rocky shores of Lena Cove. Many offer picnic facilities (tables, fire pits, shelters, and restrooms.) Popular beach activities include swimming, sunning, beachcombing, picnicking and tide pool exploration.
7. Salmon Spawning Streams – Between July and September, many of the natural salmon spawning streams in the Juneau area are filled with salmon completing their natural life cycle, While some fish these streams, most simply go to watch this annual event.
8. Free Concerts – From May-September, free concerts are presented Friday evenings at Marine Park Plaza in downtown Juneau. At noon on Fridays, attend free pipe organ concerts in the atrium of the State Office Building.
9. Downtown Juneau Historic Walking Tour – Pick up a walking tour map from any visitors’ center and follow the path that takes you by all the major locations that played a part in the history of Juneau. The map contains information about each location. The walking tour is easily completed in an afternoon.
10. Project Playground – A community sponsored and constructed play area at Twin Lakes. Conceived by children for children and completed in the summer of 2008, this totally modern playground is on a lake setting and has picnic and restroom facilities nearby.